Delaware Shells


The irresistible lure of shelling should be part of your visit to the beach. The State Parks north and Assateague just south offer along the shore beds for many of the shells. You can not see the beds or sandbars but they do exist. Jetties are another home to shells. The intertidal flats, calm bays, lagoons and "mud" flats harbor a number of species of shells, although it may require some digging. Many shells spend most of their time buried in the soft sand or mud. This is a form of protection.

Seashells are among nature's most beautiful works of art and few people, young or old, who wander along the beach can resist picking up the shells they see.

If you have ever collected shells, identified them, or displayed them you have been an amateur conchologist. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries conchology was the all-inclusive name for scientists who were interested in shells and the animals that lived in them but now there is the special field of science called malacology, and conchology is left more to the hobbyist. In any case the pleasure of shelling leads you to the pleasure of learning about the animals that inhabit these exquisite shells.

You learn about beach combing as a fine art. Sea glass, driftwood, wooden planks, an old bottle (maybe rate), ropes of all sorts, hundreds of other things the sea has beautified and given back to us. But always there is the return to shells and through them to reacquaint ourselves with people we have met before history, religion, politics, the arts and business:

Those interested in finding seashells have a variety of locations and methods to chose from along the Atlantic coast. From the shallow bays to the deep off shore waters, Delaware is home to over 100 different species of shells.

Tide pool wading is one of my favorite shelling pastimes' especially at night when with a flashlight, you can observe all the species that hide by day. Tide pools are the pools left among the rocks and jetty's when the tide recedes and are often teeming with sea life and shells that anchor themselves to the rocks. This includes oysters, blue mussels, a variety of nerites, barnacles and some sea urchins.

Although the above method produce a lot of good shelling every ones favorite still seems to be the beaches. As you walk the beaches the largest shells, probably the whelks (commonly but mistakenly called conchs) will be the easiest to spot. The whelk is our local shell. It’s a relative of the conch shell. This mollusk (shell) is a meat eater and feeds by drilling a small hole with its razor foot into the shell of its prey. Then it sucks it out the soft body of the animal. It can take a whelk more than three days to eat and drill a oyster.

But don't be dismayed if the beach has "hidden" some of it's treasures from your first glance.

There is an old adage that says - The amateur will quickly run from shinny shell to shiny shell in happiness glee, while the seasoned collector walks slowly behind, poking around the seaweed, looking under driftwood and even known to be shaking out old cans for those hidden treasures.


Below is a list of a few of the more common shells found along our coastal beaches. All have been found numerous times and under a wide variety of conditions.

Whelks- varieties include the lighting whelk, channeled whelk and the knobbed whelk . Often referred to as conch this shell id common the inlets and offshore waters. 8" to 10" in size often found along beached after storms.

Giant Atlantic Heart Cockle-A bivalve (two shells) with white, tan to rose coloring. Size 3"-4". Common just off shore and along the shallow waters at inlets. Paired shells have a shape resembling a heart, thus its nickname.

Eastern Oyster- size up to 8'-pearly inside-wide variety of exterior shapes and colors. Common to intertidal areas.

Common Blue Mussel Bivalve size 3'- one of very few blue shells the least common shell color))popular edible, can be found in clumps on the beaches and jetties live, iridescent interior.

Pen Shell- 10" in size-meat is edible and the shell is very delicate. Can produce a valuable pearl. Usually found after storms, . Common to the bays and calm areas.

Calico Scallop- size 3'-bivalve-colored in blotches, stripes of red, pink, yellow. Popular for jewelry and crafts.

Whales Eye- size 2'-4' univalve also called moon snail or sharks eye as whorl resembles eye. Gray to beige common on beaches. Hermits love this shell.

Sun and Moon- (Atlantic Deep Scallop)- 4”6” known as a scallop and is a favorite seafood. Found in beds, one side is pinkish brown and the other white.

Quahog Clam- size 2-3” a bivalve an is edible. Can be found in mud flats. Pieces of the purple lip can be found along the shore once used as money.

*A note of caution- should you be shelling in an area where live shells abound- take care not to disturb the habitat. Put rocks and coral back in place the way you found them. Something maybe living under them. Avoid taking immature specimens (easily identifiable by their thin brittle shell, unfinished edges or sometimes just size). Allow these babies to mature and reproduce and thus protect the species.
Good Luck and Good Shelling